In recent years golfers have experienced more changes to how we play the game at club level than we ever thought possible.
Having gone through decades with little happening in terms of our golfing traditions – short socks replacing long hose and a computerised handicap system – our world has been turned upside down since January 2019 when the new Rules of Golf took effect.
We embraced the fact that not only could we putt on the green with the flagstick unattended, but could tap down spike marks on our line, something which in the old days was not only forbidden before putting, but regarded as abhorrent behaviour.
You could break numerous rules, and claim ignorance, but this was one violation which carried an onerous stigma on golfers who transgressed. Just ask English tour pro Simon Dyson, who has never been forgiven by his peers after having been “caught” on camera in a 2013 European Tour event in China. He received a two-month suspension and a heavy fine, but the cheating slur never went away.
When the rule was changed to allow tapping down spike marks, Spanish pro Gonzalo Fernandez Castano tweeted that it felt “weird and will take time to get used to. Unless you are Simon Dyson and have been doing it for years.”
Mind you, for club golfers spike marks had mostly disappeared by the end of the 1990s when we had all got rid of our metal-spiked golf shoes, but that’s another story.
THE 3-MINUTE RULE IS LARGELY IGNORED
We can now also ground our clubs in penalty areas; the new dropping rule is from knee height; and the time taken to search for a golf ball has been reduced from five to three minutes.
As if any club golfer ever bothered to put a stop watch on that rule! Three minutes may be an effective change for professional tournaments, but it doesn’t work at club level where golfers often search unassisted. Golf balls aren’t cheap, and few golfers are going to happily leave behind a premium price ball without a thorough look for it. Playing partners seldom are strict on this, because we’re all in the same boat.
Then along came Slope and the World Handicap System. We had not one handicap, but two, and now there’s three of them! A handicap index came along with a course handicap based on which tee you played and, on March 1, a playing handicap for competitions.
This latest unpopular move from GolfRSA will take a while to be accepted as the average male handicap is 16, and that carries with it a 3-shot cut in betterball events. If the object behind this is to diminish the effect of handicap manipulation, why allow all golfers to take 3-over scores on holes where they stroke? It’s an invitation for some creative arithmetic. Anyone with a handicap of 18 or lower should never be allowed more than a 2-over score on any hole.
WHAT A PLEASURE NOT TO RAKE BUNKERS
Covid protocols have now introduced another novel element to golf in 2021 – placing in bunkers. What a pleasure!
Covid has seen many curious regulations affect our daily lives; for golfers it is heaven-sent that handling bunker rakes risks infection. So they have disappeared from most courses. I say most, because on my travels I have encountered rakes still lying next to bunkers. Not that they are being utilised by anyone other than staff. Golfers everywhere are loving the ease of walking into a bunker, placing their ball in a perfect lie, and walking out again without a care for the mess they’re in. It has helped speed up play.
Yet how long will this state of affairs last? Bunkers look dreadful, and it’s extra work for staff to repair them. Some clubs have suggested rakes might never return, and we’ll either have to use our own in future, or rent them. Apart from being manifestly unhygienic, it would reduce expenditure on rakes, while staff mowing the course would not be impeded by rakes lying around. There are clubs already insisting on personal rakes for members and visitors.
I sometimes carry a basic mini-rake which attaches to the shaft of a club. It’s fine for a quick fix, but being narrow it’s a chore to smooth footprints if you’ve wandered into the middle of a vast bunker complex. And it is an awkward size for fitting into a golf bag.
There’s an opening for a product here, and it hasn’t taken long for one to appear. Resourceful South African Grant Collinge has invented a light, durable, portable rake which extends and folds. It’s called the KlikRake, priced at R599.
Cleverly, it converts into a useful ball retriever, which is what piqued my interest. You can make it pay for itself by scooping out water balls. It doesn’t come with one of those extra-long poles which give the impression of golfers being anglers, but is long enough to snag that ball you spot in a bush or water hazard too deep to reach.